Fancy a trip to the Britannia Stadium? No, me neither.
And before all you hundreds of thousands of Stoke City fans start moaning that I’m doing your great club an injustice, I’m not talking about the qualities of your football team, just the name of the stadium. The Britannia Stadium is named after an arm of the Co-Operative Bank, an arm that will apparently be amputated by the end of 2013, due to “re-structuring”. I assume it will become the “Co-Operative Stadium”. Well, there’s something to look forward to. Everyone being “co-operative”. How nice. And how horrifically boring.
Corporate branding is the coronary artery disease of modern football. Every Tom, Dick and Harry Ramsden wants to get in on the act. They want to prove to you how “cool” they are, how in tune they are with the modern “footie” fan (though of course anyone who calls it “footie” should be disembowelled with a hockey stick) and how pleased they are with the new “partnerships” they are forging in order to provide “football-based leisure solutions” to the mugs, er people, who pay fortunes for their season tickets and the pleasures of being bombarded with yet more corporate remedies for insomnia. And the stadium names reflect this so depressingly well.
“The Emirates” has passed into the football lexicon, as has “The Etihad”. Both are named after airlines, of course. So how soon will it be before they are both re-branded as something sexier in order to “better communicate our vision statement to our stakeholders” or some other vapid piece of management-speak? If your stadium was “The Pan-Am Arena” back in the 1970s or “The British Caledonian Stadium” then you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Grounds used to be named after the road, or maybe the area of the town, that they stood in: “Highbury”(Arsenal), “Maine Road”(Man City), “Leeds Road”(Huddersfield). Others just had names that you immediately identified with that club, like “The Goldstone Ground”(Brighton), “The Baseball Ground”(Derby) or “The Den” (the latter being Millwall’s old ground which I visited once as an away fan: I still give thanks every day that I made it out alive).
Alas, these places are no more, and the game is poorer in spirit as a result, even if it means bags more cash for the clubs and the chance to sign a Chilean striker who will not be able to “settle”. New stadiums popping-up everywhere have, on the other hand, given clubs the opportunity to use a bit of imagination when naming the new place. How typical that few seem to have risen to that particular challenge.
“The Roker Roar” (Sunderland) has been replaced by the “Small outbreak of applause at The Stadium of Light” (a name already used by Benfica in Portugal). Those who stood on Highbury’s North Bank in years gone by must now sit in either “Upper Level”, “Club Level” or “Lower Level” at The Emirates, unless they have wormed their way into the “Diamond Club” and can sit in an executive box to watch the team being beaten by Swansea, Bayern Munich, Blackburn, or whoever is in town that day. They don’t even have an “End” anymore. It’s like someone reaching inside your chest and ripping your heart out, while you stand there nodding politely and handing over a steady stream of £20 notes. They must be mad, these fans. Sorry, these “football consumers”.
In addition to those already mentioned, here are some more mind-bogglingly dull names that have appeared on the scene lately:
-Swansea’s “Liberty Stadium” (named after some local property developers)
-Newcastle’s “Sports Direct Arena” (named after the owner’s business in selling flammable tracksuits to overweight, sweaty people)*
-Coventry’s “Ricoh Arena” (Japanese electronics firm)
-Huddersfield’s “John Smith’s” “Galpharm” “McAlpine” (depending on which way the wind is blowing they name their stadium after beer, pharmaceuticals or construction companies)
-Derby’s “Pride Park” (named after the soulless business park on which it stands)
-Bolton’s “Reebok Stadium” (again somewhere named after a company that sells sports goods to people whose idea of exercise is walking to the chippy)
-Leicester’s “KP Stadium” (surely by now someone has put up a sign in the club office that says “You don’t have to be nuts to work here, but it helps”) which should not be confused with Hull’s “KC Stadium”. As if that was possible.
All of these places are, of course, wonderfully-constructed arenas. They all provide “conferencing facilities” of course, because “conferencing” (i.e sitting around and talking all day about a problem that you could solve in half an hour if you really wanted to) is a growth industry. Who could turn down the chance to escape from the call-centre for a day and instead get on the company bus to be transported like cattle to the out-of-town football stadium, where tedious middle-managers, each with the charisma of an ironing board, “conference” you both before and after a healthy lunch in the executive suite?
I may well be on my own, but don’t the names just leave you cold? Don’t they just sum-up perfectly the cynical nature of the “brands” that football clubs have become? The horrible talk of a “partnership” with brand X, Y or Z that produces “synergies” whilst “delivering” on their “mission statement” should have no place in football, or any sport. There’s no imagination, just “name the stadium after our brand”. Well excuse me, but that’s just shit.(And while I’m at it, I don’t want to know about “five-year plans” that clubs have copied from businesses that sell breath freshener or sausage rolls. Real “five-year plans” in Stalin’s Russia often ended with the responsible underling never being seen again. Whinging that your star worker/midfielder was injured for eight months tended not to be regarded as a good excuse for failure. So stop calling the outside chance of reaching the play-offs “a key element of our five-year plan”. Thank you).
I say “enough” of these branded stadiums and let’s get back to proper stadium names like Highfield Road, Filbert Street, Burnden Park and Plough Lane. If you want new names, “Ashburton Grove” sounded nicer than “The Emirates” does, and “Eastlands” was better than “The Etihad”. Nothing, of course, will ever be able to compete with “The New Den” for a total and utter imagination failure, but as we’re talking about Millwall that shouldn’t come as a surprise. That said, I must exempt Southampton FC from any such criticism. After they left “The Dell” (which I never really liked as a name) in 2001 they named their new stadium “St Mary’s”. As any Portsmouth fan will tell you, “St Mary’s” is the local hospital where Southampton fans go for treatment after matches in Portsmouth involving the two teams.
So at least someone is showing a bit of creativity.
* Wonga.com bought the naming rights and soon realised that to call the stadium the “Wonga Arena” would quite possibly be corporate suicide. They have re-named it “St James’ Park”, reverting to the old name.